Hi-Fi+ Awards 2016: Digital Audio

Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio
dCS Vivaldi Version 2.0,
Hegel Music Systems Mohican,
Innuos ZENith Mk II,
Linn Klimax DS
Hi-Fi+ Awards 2016: Digital Audio

DAC of the Year

Chord Electronics DAVE

Some awards categories were difficult to choose, and notionally that could have applied to the fast-moving and extremely competitive DAC market. In fact, there’s really only one DAC we could give this award to this year: Chord Electronics’ DAVE. Short for Digital Audio Verite in Extremis, DAVE pushes the envelope of just what is thought possible in digital audio in the home, and in the process delivers a product that sounds so good, it makes you wonder whether we have reached the pinnacle of what’s possible. For now...

Chord’s genius in the DAVE is to be not one, but two DACs stored in firmware ready to upload to the DAVE’s vast on-board FPGA at a moment’s notice, using the same circuitry throughout. So, when you want to play a high-resolution PCM file, the DSD converter remains hidden, and when you decide to play DSD, the PCM-friendly DAC goes back to its firmware storage. Despite this, the DAVE is extremely simple to operate, whether as a standalone DAC or an excellent combined DAC/headphone amplifier. Alan Sircom said, “The DAVE is that rare beast; a device that performs equally well in all these aspects of performance, and by ‘equally well’ we mean it does an outstanding, class‑leading job.”

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 141

Streamer of the Year

Linn Klimax DS/3 and DSM/3

Linn Products’ goal of continous improvement coupled with a desire to never leave one of its customers stranded makes for some potential clashes of ethos. Fortunately in the third iteration of Linn’s top streamers – the standard Klimax DS and preamplifier-equipped Klimax DSM – both sides of the equation are expertly resolved. Linn’s new Katalyst DAC architecture represents a major step change in sonic performance of the Klimax platform, while it is also designed to be wholly upgradable for existing Klimax DS and DSM owners, who can also get their old Klimax DS back in a ‘Renew’ case. Both Klimax variants are also ‘Exakt’ ready should you decide to go the full ‘source is in the speaker’ active line that Linn has been developing in recent years. In short, Everybody wins!

Katalyst carefully optimises every pathway to the DAC chip itself, allowing unparalleled access to power requirements right down to a subsystem level. The easiest – and briefest – way of considering this is it is like Linn built a bespoke suit for the DAC and it wears it well in its hewn from solid billet aluminium chambered chassis.

Normally, when listening to a change in digital architecture, the difference in sound quality is comparatively small. With the Linn Klimax DS/3, that wasn’t the case. In test, Alan Sircom commented “out came ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ from Dusty Springfield’s justly famous Dusty In Memphis album [Phillips], which sounded extremely good on the DS/2. Two bars into the same track on the DS/3 and it sounded like she was singing with a band, where the DS/2 now sounded like she was singing to a backing track.  It was as if a group of better and better-rehearsed musicians had turned up.” He concluded by saying, “even at the super-lofty end of high-end digital, the Klimax DS/3 stands with the best of them.”

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 140

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